State Capitalism and Inequality

Catherine J. Smith, John A. Donaldson, Sanushka Mudaliar, Mumtaz Md Kadir, and Lam Keong Yeoh. A Handbook on Inequality, Poverty and Unmet Social Needs in Singapore. Lien Centre for Social Innovation, 2015.

  • The Gini coefficient indicates that Singapore has become an increasingly unequal society, but does not tell the story of how this happened. There are several factors that are commonly identified as having potentially increased inequality levels in Singapore; two of the most common are, broadly, economic strategies designed to achieve high rates of growth, and Singapore’s system of meritocracy.

Chua Beng Huat. Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore. NUS Press, 2017.

  • In Liberalism Disavowed, Chua Beng Huat examines the rejection of Western-style liberalism in Singapore and the way the People’s Action Party has forged an independent non-Western ideology. This book explains the evolution of this communitarian ideology, with focus on three areas: public housing, multiracialism and state capitalism, each of which poses different challenges to liberal approaches. With the passing of the first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew and the end of the Cold War, the party is facing greater challenges from an educated populace that demands greater voice. This has led to liberalization of the cultural sphere, greater responsiveness and shifts in political rhetoric, but all without disrupting the continuing hegemony of the PAP in government.

Garry Rodan. “Capitalism, Inequality and Ideology in Singapore: New Challenges for the Ruling Party,” Asian Studies Review, vol. 40, no. 2, 2016, pp. 211-230.

  • Amidst popular concerns about rising inequalities and living costs, reduced social mobility and inadequate public infrastructure, Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) suffered significant declines in electoral support in the 2006 and 2011 general elections before regaining support at the 2015 polls. Importantly, these concerns reflect the intensification of contradictions inherent to Singapore’s model of capitalist development. This juncture in the city-state’s political economy has been conducive to greater scrutiny of core PAP ideological notions about the perils of “Western” social welfare and the moral and functional advantages of non-democratic institutions of political accountability and representation. The PAP has responded with creative new defences of its core ideologies in conjunction with social spending boosts, a strategy that will be further tested following the 2015 election.

Garry Rodan and Tom White. “Capitalism, Inequality, and Ideology in Singapore,” New Naratif, January 8, 2020.

  • Singapore has experienced one of the most rapid capitalist transformations in Asia. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, this was accompanied by remarkable material and social improvements for the vast bulk of Singaporeans, and sustained political support for the People’s Action Party (PAP). However, its economic model is now generating uneven social impacts, heightened social contradictions and thus new political challenges for the ruling party.

Kenneth Paul Tan, “The Ideology of Pragmatism: Neo-liberal Globalisation and Political Authoritarianism in Singapore,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, vol. 42, no. 1, 2012, pp. 67-92.

  • This article uncovers the strongly ideological quality in Singapore’s theory and practice of pragmatism. It also points to a strongly pragmatic quality in the ideological negotiations that play out within the dynamics of hegemony. In this complex relationship, the combination of ideological and pragmatic manoeuvring over the decades has resulted in the historic political dominance of the People’s Action Party (PAP) government in partnership with global capital. But in an evolving, diversifying and globalising society, this manoeuvring has also engendered a number of mismatched expectations. It has also seen a greater sensitivity and attention to the inherent ideological contradictions and socio-economic inequalities that may erode what has been a relatively stable partnership between state and capital. This article argues that Singapore’s one-party dominant state is the result of continuous ideological work that deploys the rhetoric of pragmatism to link the notion of Singapore’s impressive success and future prospects to its ability to attract global capital. In turn, this relies on maintaining a stable political system dominated by an experienced, meritocratic and technocratic PAP government. While this Singaporean conventional wisdom has supported the political and economic interests of the state and global capital in a period of neo-liberal globalisation, its internal contradictions and external pressures have also begun to challenge its hegemonic pre-eminence.

Teo You Yenn. This is What Inequality Looks Like. Ethos Books, 2018.

What is poverty? What is inequality? How are they connected? How are they reproduced? How might they be overcome? Why should we try? The way we frame our questions shapes the way we see solutions. This book does what appears to be a no-brainer task, but one that is missing and important: it asks readers to pose questions in different ways, to shift the vantage point from which they view ‘common sense,’ and in so doing, to see themselves as part of problems and potential solutions. This is a book about how seeing poverty entails confronting inequality. It is about how acknowledging poverty and inequality leads to uncomfortable revelations about our society and ourselves. And it is about how once we see, we cannot, must not, unsee.

William KM Lee. “The poor in Singapore: Issues and Options,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, vol. 31, no. 1, 2001, pp. 57-70.

  • This article examines the changing patterns of poverty in Singapore. As Singapore’s population ages, the poor increasingly includes the elderly. It appears that ascribed factors, such as gender and race, have significant influence on financial security at old age. As the population ages, the adequacy of existing anti-poverty policy is challenged.

Zubaidah Jalil. “Poor in the Land of Crazy Rich Asian,” New Naratif, October 26, 2018.